We Owe These People Something


 

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We weren’t at war with Laos. Heck, we weren’t even officially at war with Vietnam, but poor Laos didn’t even have much of an army to fight back, and they were certainly no match for our constant aerial bombardment. For eight years we dropped an average of a B-52 load of bombs on that country every eight minutes. Because we weren’t officially even there, there was no strategy. When pilots asked what was the target, they were told “anything that moves.”

 

When I was in Laos, I saw huts in the countryside with fish ponds in front of them. I assumed these were enterprising people who had dug fish ponds to harvest a food source. Then I realized these ponds were all around. Then I realized they weren’t fish ponds, but bomb craters filled with rainwater.

 

The side of Laos that borders on Vietnam we dubbed the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” At one point, we even considered dropping nuclear weapons on it.  North of  Vietnam’s DMZ, Laos is about thirty miles wide, and Vietnam is about twenty miles wide. The ground along the border is often mountainous, which means that the unexploded ordnance isn’t routinely uncovered by farmers planting rice. But it’s still there. Maybe we might offer to help clean it up? Of course, we have some pressing business to take care of back home. Building the wall between us and Mexico should strain the budget for a while.

 

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RUNNING FROM SMOKE


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For the past three days I have been literally racing up and down haze-choked hills in Northern Thailand, looking for some fresh air. I’m driving my new/used motorcycle, a Honda CB500, which in these parts is considered a big bike. I’m driving in the mountains, on two lane blacktop roads which at the right time of year would have offered luscious landscapes, but because this is the end of dry season, and because the air is full of gray smog from burning crops, it’s not much fun.

I left Chiang Mai when the particle levels were at the danger level, and after looking online for a possible refuge, noticed that the levels in Phayao and Phrae were in the normal, safe zone. But as we drove the three and four hour rides, I noticed that the air here looks every bit as bad as it does around Chiang Mai.

That’s because it is. Turns out that the monitoring stations in Phayao and Phrae are using old equipment that doesn’t measure the smallest, most dangerous smoke particles, the ones that work their way deep into your lungs and stay there. Emergency cardiac admissions at local hospitals soar this time of year. Having your lungs poison your blood with microscopic smoke is no picnic.

The only solution is to admit defeat and fly south to the beaches. There the smoke isn’t a problem. 

 

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Dong Hoi Vietnam


Nobody’s ever heard of it. They will, someday. Miles and miles of beach, the biggest caves in the world in a nearby park. We’re staying at a luxury hotel for $35 a night. Fresh sea breeze, cool air. It’s like Northern California. We came here to escape the smoke in Chiang Mai.

 

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Phong Nha Park near Dong Hoi, Vietnam


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It straddles the mountains between the China Sea and the Laos border. It has the biggest caves in the world, and the massive limestone hills are covered with vegetation so that it looks like the set for a King Kong movie.

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The road south to Khe Sanh was suitable only for walking until lately when they paved it. It was nicknamed the Ho Chi Minh Trail West and is now considered one of the best motorcycle rides in Vietnam.

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